25 May, 2009

Book 13 - Bloodhound

Not-even-slightly-related link of the day: Questionable Content. A webcomic about music, love, and tiny, cute, sociopathic robots. About as addictive as a soap opera and occasionally as dramatic as one, but usually pretty funny and always entertaining.

And now, to business. I only have one assignment left to write, and miraculously I actually had time over the weekend to read something that wasn't an article on online bibliographical exhibitions (don't ask). Ergo, today I can actually write up a post! Huzzah! PS: I know, I totally abuse the word "actually". Just think of it a charming personality quirk.

Title: Bloodhound (2009)

Author: Tamora Pierce

Why this book?
So when I was about thirteen all my friends started reading Tamora Pierce's Song of the Lioness quartet. It didn't sound that great to me - a girl disguising herself as a boy to be trained as a knight sounded kind of clich├ęd, and I just wasn't interested. But then I discovered First Test, about the first girl to train as a knight as a girl, which sounded much better. I read it, and was instantly hooked, to the point that I immediately read all the rest of her books set in the realm of Tortall - and then everything else she'd written that I could get my hands on, including the recent White Tiger miniseries she co-authored for Marvel (which is excellent, by the way, and I highly recommend it to you even if comics aren't your thing). In 2006 she published Terrier, the first in a series set 500 years before Song of the Lioness. Bloodhound is the second in the series.

What's it all about anyway?
In Terrier, Beka Cooper was a trainee member of the Provost's Guard (kind of like the police) With her ability to hear the dead speaking and an unquenchable thirst for justice, she helped to bring down the child-murdering 'Shadow Snake'. Now she's a proper Guardswoman - one who is unable to hold down a partner. She's not the only member of the Watch to have that problem, though; Achoo, a scent hound (think sniffer dog) is having the same problem - worse, in fact, since Achoo is being abused by her handler. Beka takes over, and together her and Achoo make a formidable pair.

Meanwhile, there's a big problem facing Tortall; someone is circulating fake silver coins, and in very large numbers. Coupled with a bad harvest, this sends food prices rocketing, and a riot breaks out when the price of bread doubles. The money forging is traced to the city of Port Caynn, and that's where Beka is sent to investigate - along with Achoo, of course, and Guardswoman Goodwin, one of Beka's mentors. Beka enjoys herself immensely in Port Caynn, especially when handsome young gambler Dale starts to flirt with her.

Beka's investigations are putting her in some serious danger - not just from Port Caynn's criminals, but from its Provost's Guards as well. Beka knows she's in trouble when she's being hunted by both the menacing Pearl Skinner and her own fellow Guardsmen - but she's not going to let a little thing like that stand in her way of discovering the truth...

The Good and the Bad
As usual, Pierce has written a fantastic adventure story - and as usual I couldn't put it down. One of the things I love about this series in particular is that because it's set in Tortall's 'past', Pierce is able to slip in hints of how society changes between Beka's time and the events of the Song of the Lioness. In Terrier, it's mentioned that the slave trade is losing popularity. This time, we see the beginnings of the religious movement which is the start of the end of Lady Knights.

In Pierce's previous Tortall series, each of the female heroes were pitted against various evils, but each book built up to the final showdown against a powerful male villain - Alanna had Duke Roger, Daine had Emperor Ozanne, and Kel had... that sorceror whose name I've forgotten. Each of these villains has power from their magical abilities and from their societal status. In Bloodhound, as in Terrier, we're given different types of villains - women, who have no social status, who've gained what power they've had entirely from their own actions. They make the perfect antagonists to Beka, who like them has no social status, and who also has got where she is almost entirely by her own actions.

Like Terrier, Bloodhound is written in 'diary' format - and I just don't think that Pierce manages it entirely convincingly. For instance, writing in her usual third-person limited narrative, it would be fine to have the narrative explain the the Black God's priests wore veils to cover their faces, but it feels unnatural for a character to be explaining something like that in their own diary. It's a well-known fact as far as Beka is concerned - why would she feel the need to explain it in a diary which presumably only she is ever going to see?

I also felt that the writing around Okha, a trans* character, was weak. Shortly after meeting Beka, Okha tells her her whole life story, and it felt very much like Pierce was telling Okha's life story - would someone who has been hurt as much as Okha have really be so quick to trust a stranger? It did feel more than a little shoehorned. At the same time, it meant that Okha was explicitly trans* - and a protagonist, too. That doesn't exactly happen very often in popular YA fantasy.

So should I read it or what?
I have pretty high expectations of Tamora Pierce and I wish she would return to her old narrative style - it suits her writing so much better! But I still enjoyed Bloodhound and I'm still going to go ahead and recommend it. I'm already looking forward to the next Beka Cooper book, Elkhound.

And for extra credit: Tamora Pierce's webpage


Sadako said...

Nice review--sounds like a fun read. Haven't heard of Tamora Pierce, but it sounds like it could be fun.

HelenB said...

I really do adore her books - maybe I'll write up a post about some of her other books so you can learn more about her!

amaxdear said...

Okay, I know this was posted a while ago, but I only discovered Bloodhound recently, so I feel the need to add my two cents...

I thought Okha in particular was handled very well. I mean, there was a bit of preachiness when he was first introduced--"how they live their lives, none of my business, blah blah blah"--but the subsequent scene with Beka was pretty good. Most transgender individuals that I know like to have people to talk to about it, and the only characters who seem to know him as anyone other than Amber Orchid are Nestor, Goodwin, and Beka. A listening ear would probably be nice. Besides, Nestor's been jabbering about Beka for years, so it's not like she's a strange stranger.

So... yeah. That's my thought. *awkward cough*

HelenB said...
This comment has been removed by the author.